To an energetic future

Very encouraged to hear about GE Smart Grid, which uses power data to alter consumer behaviour for their benefit. So, for example, if your power meter clearly indicates you pay more for using the washing machine in the evening, then you can use it in the morning instead and save money. This project is also working on allowing consumers to generate their own electricity from solar panels (for example) and selling it back to the utility company. Though this Business Week article says that it only results in a monthly reduction in expenditure of $2, don’t forget to read the comments section where Mark Brian, GE’s Home Energy Manager who is featured in the article, clarifies:

My overall bill is down almost 20% since I received the smart appliances and started modifying my consumption behavior. The $2.00 savings number quoted above is a comparison to my actual “variable rate” bill, and what my bill would have been if I had paid a flat rate of 6% per kW-hour. What this tells me is that I have successfully avoided the price increase that came with time-of-use pricing. Overall … my bill is still down 18%-20% on average and I’m successfully bypassing the electricity price increase!

On the heels of Google Power Meter and what I heard at the ‘Revealing Energy’ sessions at TED Global yesterday, I think making energy-saving a commercial project can really do wonders for our future generations, and I don’t mean to sound fluffy when I say that. I’d use GE Smart Grid or Google Power Meter in a snap if they were available to me. I think that apart from making sound financial sense, they’d really contribute to environmental sustainability. Those are only good things, no? And companies like GE and Google are demonstrating that they are outward-looking by investing in these projects. Hats off to them.  

Clay Shirky at TED@State: Power to the People

Earlier this year, I watched Clay Shirky speak at the LSE. Last month, he spoke at TED@State on the same subject – how social media mechanisms like Twitter and platforms like My Barack Obama are changing the way governments and politics operate. The TED talk has just been put up online, and I found it compelling enough to sit through again despite the fact that I’d already heard a lot of his points. Specifically, I think he lays the foundation for his talk in these very strong words which he admits need backing up (he proceeds to do so): “The moment we’re living through, the moment our historical generation is living through, is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history.”

Given that as I write this, #iranelection is still amongst the top trending topics on Twitter, I think he is onto something here. He may not have been the first person to assert the importance of social media in our current global landscape, but people who think tools like Twitter are crap (and there is actually someone who says exactly that in the comments to the video), need to seriously learn the facts – and about the stories of change. 

Innovation, possibilities and doing what’s right

Last week, one of the things I noticed being repeatedly mentioned across the interwebs was the TED video that showed Pranav Mistry demoing Sixth Sense, a tool he developed under the guidance of his advisor Patti Maes at MIT’s Media Lab:

I just read an interview with him, where one of his responses really resonated with me. The question was whether Sixth Sense was influenced by science fiction, especially in the manner that we are used to seeing it in movies like Minority Report or Robocop. Pranav said:

I’m not a very big fan of science fiction. I think that I’m a very big fan of living in the physical world. I’m good with digital technology, but I start to miss the physical world. I miss riding my bike, talking to friends. Technology now separates us from the physical world more and more. Even social networking sites are taking us away from the physical world.

At the lab, we like making things that we can touch, we can feel, we can take with us wherever we want to go, that we know how to interact with. The digital world has power because it has dynamic information, but it’s important that we stay human instead of being another machine sitting in front of a machine.Whatever science fiction movies we watch now, we can make the technology real in two days. What we can do is not important. What we should do is more important.

Re-read the last line.

Tim Malbon, one of the founders of Made By Many who is currently in Austin attending SXSW (lucky him), live-tweeted on Friday about a talk by Alex Bogusky that he was attending: 

As we move into a world where products and ideas will be cranked out at an amazing pace, let’s all remember not just what we can do – a lot, without a doubt – but what we should. Because we’re not robots or animals. That’s what makes us different. 

Manufacturing our landscapes

I know that the frequency of my posts has dropped considerably, but that’s only because I spend some time writing for Made By Many’s blog over here. Recent posts include my thoughts on last week’s Measurement Camp, interesting links that we’ve been looking at in the office recently and Last Graph. Go take a look. 

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I watched a documentary called Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal featuring Edward Burtynsky recently, at Sense Worldwide. Edward Burtynsky was a TED prize winner in 2005. A photo-artist, he has spent a lot of time in and around mines and factories in the developing world. The film is as much a work of art as it is a stark depiction of reality. Some of the shots looked like they’d hold their own if they were framed on a wall. Other scenes slowly turned from black-and-white to colour, and that single motion revealed more than words could. The film aims to convey humankind’s impact on the environment, the long-standing goal of all Burtynsky’s work. I know I heard more than enough from Al Gore, but there’s something about the way Burtynsky presents his work that makes him more credible (at least to me). 
You can watch his TED talk here (34 minutes, recommended), or catch a quick glimpse of what the film is about in this trailer:

Mena Trott on how blogs help build a friendlier world

If I were a teacher, I would ensure that I showed at least one TED video a month to my students. They aren’t just incredibly insightful, but very relevant and cover such a wide array of topics that it would be difficult for anybody not to find at least one interest of theirs covered. This one is by the co-founder of MovableType and TypePad, Mena Trott. (Her company, Six Apart, later acquired LiveJournal as well). She’s just a couple of years older than me. In this talk, she explains how blogs are building a friendlier world – and I agree. I’ve learnt so much about different people and their interests and unconsciously (for the most part) about life, simply by reading their blogs.